What does the blessing in Numbers 6:25–26 mean when it makes double reference to the face of God? This article explains the meaning, also showing how in Christ God’s face has become even more clear.

Source: De Wekker, 1993. 1 pages. Translated by Liz DeWit.

Numbers 6:25-26 - The Face of God

In the well-known blessing of Numbers 6:25–26, the face of God is mentioned twice:

The Lord make his face to shine upon you…The Lord lift his countenance upon you.

We understand when we hear these words of blessing at the end of the church service, that this is a confession and at the same time a prayer. We confess that without God, we are not able to continue living in a meaningful manner. As Moses was convinced that the nation of Israel could proceed on the journey to the Promised Land only if God’s favour would be with them (Ex. 33:12), so we also confess at the beginning of the week that without the Lord, we cannot proceed.

Therefore, we pray about this, in church, and, if we live in God’s service, every day. Without God, without his countenance, we cannot carry on.

For us, that word “countenance” refers especially to God. Outside of the worship service the word is seldom used. We talk about someone’s face, not about their countenance. When the countenance of God is spoken about, we understand that this is not a literal reference: a face with eyes, nose, mouth, but more a figurative reference: God himself—who and what he desires to be for us as people. God’s countenance is directly related to his love, his grace, his faithful care, but also his anger, when people turn their backs to him. See Exodus 34:5-10.

It is striking in the Bible that the wrath of God never coincides with the presence of God’s face. The turning of God’s face toward us means blessing. Wrath does not shine out from his face. It does happen that God hides his face. Then things do not go well for the people to whom this happens.

Then the person is left to himself and to the powers of evil. The faithful in Israel have difficulty with this. With great longing, they seek God’s face: especially in the sanctuary, in the temple, where offerings are presented and where prayers ascend. There they may expect God’s gracious countenance!

When the one who is praying finds himself in difficult circumstances, we often hear an intense longing for the temple in his prayer (e.g., Pss. 42:3; 84:3).

In the New Testament the countenance of God is mentioned in a very special way. Here it becomes even more clear that the turning of God’s face towards us means forgiveness and peace and faithful care. For, God’s face has become known to us, revealed in Jesus Christ.

For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.2 Corinthians 4:6

Paul in this passage thought of the blessing from Numbers 6. In Christ, God makes his face to shine upon us. The glory that streams from his face therefore has everything to do with his love for sinners, which Jesus proclaimed in his life and death.

In Jesus, God made it unmistakeably clear who he wants to be for us. He is the “image” of God (2 Cor. 4:4; John 12:45), Jesus, who suffered and died for sinners. When we seek God’s face, we may increasingly discover in Jesus how great God’s love is.

The face of God has become very clear in Christ. And yet there remain many mysteries (l Cor. 13:12). Not until the New Jerusalem, as it says in Revelation 22:4, will the servants of God see his face.

Currently, much prayer is still needed: let your face shine upon us!

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